Last week the College of William and Mary hosted a "Sex Workers Art Show" funded by student fees and the Women's Studies Department. According to published reports in the Virginia Gazette and WorldNetDaily, the show featured sex toys, erotic dancing, stripping (including one striptease by a 200-pound woman), male and female prostitutes, and an anti-war performance that involved a sex toy shaped like a gun.
Understandably, the show sparked an uproar, so much so that college president Gene Nichol was moved to respond. "I don't like this kind of show and I don't like having it here," he said. "But it's not the practice and province of universities to censor or cancel performances because they are controversial."
Fair enough; allowing blatantly offensive, vulgar, controversial speech is a great way to demonstrate that speech is truly free. Nichol's comments seem to hearken back to those famously attributed to Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
And in the increasingly neo-puritanical speech climate at American colleges, it's a welcome note to hear from a college leader.
All the more shame it is that Nichol first proved himself a doctrinaire enforcer of that climate. Last fall he ordered a cross removed from the college's historic Wren Chapel on the off chance that secular students might see it and feel unwelcome. Would that the preceding were a joke, a crude parody, or merereductio ad absurdum: Boy, political correctness has gotten insane on campus. How insane is it? Why, it's so insane, crosses are obscene, but dildos are sacrosanct!
Nichol justified his decision first by saying the cross wasn't "banished" from the Chapel, but would be "displayed on the altar at appropriate religious services" (his statements and much more can be found at www.savethewrencross.org). Nevertheless, he stressed, "the Chapel is also used frequently for College events that are secular in nature – and should be open to students and staff of all beliefs."